Key West 2005, that winter interlude down south that attracts some of the best sailors from around the world, had a line up this year that read like a who's who in sailing. Some of the "rock stars" that competed this year include Kevin Burnham, the 2004 Olympic Gold medalist who has just been named Rolex Yachtsman of the Year, Gold medalist Sofia Bedatorou of Greece, Silver medalist Charlie Ogletree from Texas, and three-time America's Cup winner Russell Coutts, considered the best America's Cup helmsman of all time, plus JJ Isler, Mark Reynolds, Jonathan and Charlie McKee, Randy Smyth, John Bertrand, John Cutler and John Kostecki. Filling out the roster that included 295 boats with 3,000 sailors from 13 countries and 35 states, were serious amateurs who had a chance to have a go against world-class teams. That's what is so great about Key West. Not only does it break up the winter doldrums, offer great wind conditions, and the best race management from Premiere Racing, it gives really great racers a chance to see how they stack up against Olympic medalists, America's Cup veterans, Volvo Race winners and other world champions. Port Washington and Manhasset are known as a sailing enclave and many of our local sailors were down in Key West this year and have brought back some great stories of their adventures - all of them exciting, some disappointing, but all enthusiastic about wanting to return next year. In fact, some have already secured housing for Key West 2006. Such is the lure of this regatta, that teams plan a year ahead just for the thrill of sharing the starting line with the best of the best. While the rest of us were digging out from under two feet of snow, our sailors were spending some serious time in the water off of the southern tip of Florida. Not that teams did not have to work hard for the entire week; with high winds and the extreme competitiveness in each divisions, each tack, mark rounding and downwind set took a lot of work. One slight mistake and three or more boats could easily sail past and send your team to the lower end of the leader board. The sailing was so strenuous that some sailors admitted to skipping the evening entertainment and heading for some much needed sleep - imagine that!
John Thomson Jr, sailing on Solution in the very competitive Farr 40 division, had a crew of great sailors from Manhasset Bay, many of whom are America's Cup veterans. Along for the ride was John Thomson, III, "Stretch Ryder", Ralf Steitz, Gary Knapp, and Tony Reaper. Tom Whidden, of Team Dennis Conner Stars and Stripes, from Essex, CT was tactician, and Suzy Leach was bow person, who was on the all-women America's Cup boat Mighty Mary. According to Stretch Ryder, the starting lines "were unbelievable, the racing was extremely competitive, and every 3° wind shift you could gain or lose a couple of boats. We had a great time, it's one of the best regattas of the year." Solution ended up in 11th place overall, and "we worked our tails off. We did really well until the light air day." To put some perspective on the level of competition in this class, Hasso Plattner, skippering Morning Glory, with Ruseell Coutts as tactician, came in first, followed by Barking Mad, with James Richardson at the helm. In ninth place was Pegasus, with Philippe Kahn, skipper and Mark Reynolds, the 2002 Farr 40 World Champion Tactician.
Ed Wassmer, commodore of the Port Washington YC, was one of the crew on Jay Campbell's Outsider, who had a somewhat different experience than the team on Solution. In addition to Wassmer and Campbell, Mark Waseim and George Ryan from Huntington, plus two Canadians, and two women from Chicago and San Francisco, respectively, completed the team. Unfortunately on day two of the practice runs, when the wind was up in the 30-knot range, with higher gusts, their carbon fiber mast broke, and that ended their sailing for the week. But not to be deterred from enjoying the week, they rented a powerboat and watched the racing for four days, returning home early on Friday morning. This team continued to face challenges, even on the way home, for they drove right into the snowstorm that blanketed the northeast in deep snow. The team is already getting ready for Key West 2006, as they felt they had "everything perfect". They plan to keep the same boat, same team, same strategy. With a new mast, who knows, they may give those world class sailors a run for their money. According to Wassmer, they "would have done very well."
Brian Robinson, from the North Shore YC, faired even worse than the team on Outsider. They did not even make it to Key West, at least not with their boat. On the way to Florida, while trailering their boat, Wallbanger, a J/29, high winds caused the boat and trailer to fishtail into the guardrail on the highway and both the boat and trailer flipped on the side. Anyone who has ever trailed a boat, even a small dinghy, can identify with the horrors of a highway crash such as this one. But you've got to give the team credit for they salvaged some of their holiday by getting to Key West, if only for the on-land activities.
Claude Chazotte, who sails on Manhasset Bay with the frostbiting group, was also in Key West, on a Sydney 36 called Bounder, which is owned by Dr. David Hudgel, out of the Bayview YC north of Detroit, Michigan. Chazotte, a veteran of several Key West regattas, was the pit man for the team. The high winds of the first two days of racing presented a challenge for this team and they came in about mid-fleet out of nine boats. According to Chazotte, "by Thursday, 'our conditions' developed and we scored a long overdue first place." They ended up fourth in their division. Chazotte continued, "You could describe Key West as a Block Island Race Week on steroids. The sailing conditions were perfect, with warm weather that can't be beat at this time of year. And the night life on Duval Street is, in a word, outrageous."
Other sailors from our area include William Lenhart, Manhasset Bay YC, on Lunatic Fringe, who was fifth in their division, Bob Limoggio, on Cabaret, who captured third in his division, John Storck, Jr, on Rumor, from Huntington who came in third. John and Tony Esposito on Hustler, while from City Island, merit mention, and not only because they are a familiar boat in the Manhasset Bay Fall Series. This team had six bullets and two third place finishes to round out their week of sailing. With one throw out, this team was undeniably the best boat in their division, which is saying quite a lot, considering the level of competition.